How Stereotypes About Drug Use Harm the Gay Community

Male hand holding recreational drugs
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There is a stereotype that gay men use recreational drugs. While research tells us that sexual minorities, including gay men, may be more likely to use drugs and have a higher risk for substance use problems and addictions, the truth is that many gay men do not use drugs. For example, U.K. statistics showing that a third of gay and bisexual men have past-year drug use also indicate that twice as many did not use illicit drugs in the year prior to the survey.

Most of the focus of research into substance use in sexual minorities has been with gay men, largely because of concerns about HIV in the gay community. Research has shown that some gay men engage in the dangerous party and play activities, during which substance use, and particularly the use of crystal meth, has been combined with unsafe sex, including sex with multiple partners. Yet research has also shown that one of many myths about gay meth use is that these activities are common among gay men—in reality, only a small minority of gay men take meth and have unsafe sex.

Sources of Misinformation in the Gay Community

So where do these myths come from? There are several possible sources of this misinformation.

One source of the misinformation is research bias. Studies of drug use among gay men may recruit samples of men who are not representative of the full population of gay men, but instead, subpopulations of drug-using gay men. While it does appear that subcultures of gay men do engage in recreational drug use, those who do not may not be identified by researchers, particularly if they are well integrated into the mainstream community.

In fact, when studies are carefully reviewed, there is not a consistent pattern of gay men using drugs more than straight or bisexual men. In fact, it seems that while bisexual young people are more likely to use drugs than other sexual identity groups, gay young men are not necessarily more likely than straight men to use drugs, particularly alcohol.

Another source of the stereotype could reflect gay men when they are new to the gay scene, who are isolated, and reach out to other gay men through gay dating sites and gay bars, simply because it is the easiest way to meet peers and potential partners. The focus of these settings may be casual sex and even PnP, which can seem to be the norm. This doesn't reflect non-sexual relationships with other gay men who are not engaging in these activities, which can take time to develop.

The stereotype can also be reinforced deliberately and used to take advantage of the naivety of young, less experienced gay men. Some unscrupulous drug dealers take advantage of young, naive gay men to sell drugs—they apply peer pressure by implying that drug use is what all gay men are doing, rather than that they are exploiting a young man to do something unwise or unusual.

Another place these myths come from is die-hard homophobes. Homophobia may be conscious or unconscious, but some very harmful attitudes towards gay men emerged in the 1980s, and for some people, have not disappeared. These attitudes can include the belief that gay men are more likely to both use drugs and to engage in compulsive sex than heterosexuals.

The Reality

In reality, drug use and sex addiction can occur in men or women, and in both heterosexuals and sexual minorities. Although party and play are typically used to describe gay drug-fueled sex, in fact, the practice of taking drugs prior to casual sex is common among sex workers, who have to cope with a variety of stressors, including having sex with people they are not attracted to. And the phenomenon of heterosexuals getting intoxicated and even front-loading before engaging in casual sex is so common as to be considered normal in many communities, particularly among younger people.

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6 Sources
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